Healthcare proxies may suffer emotionally from making treatment decisions

Apr 18, 2011

Making life-and-death decisions for loved ones as a healthcare proxy can be emotionally taxing.

People selected as healthcare proxies for family members with serious illnesses may suffer emotional damage resulting from the stress of making treatment decisions, according to a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers found that difficult choices, which can include whether to maintain or withdraw life support for a terminally ill patient, may cause proxies emotional distress.

The study took into account 40 previous small reports which reflected that at least one-third of healthcare proxies reported feeling an emotional burden, including anxiety, guilt or doubt caused by being uncertain about whether they had made the right decision, according to researchers.

Some researchers involved in the project hope the study will encourage more people to prepare advance directives, such as living wills, which allow proxies to know their family member's wishes well before they are charged to make decisions on their behalf, according to Reuters.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 13 percent of blacks and 32 percent of whites in home care have a living will. Establishing advance directives and updating beneficiaries on life insurance and other policies before falling ill is essential for ensuring one's desires are carried out after death.  

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